The Colour of Joy

Inside-OutSean and I got to see Inside Out again this past weekend (it was playing at the drive-in and yup, just as good the second time around). Pixar’s latest offers us a sweet and clever insight into the emotions ruling 11-year-old Riley’s brain – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. These emotions are personified by colourful characters and truly wonderful voice talent (Amy Pohler, Phyllis Smith, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling). It was a real treat to see these emotions come to life, but between the laughter and tears, I also had some follow-up questions:

1. Why is Joy Caucasian?

Anger is a squat red guy, with matching red eyes and fire shooting out of his head. Disgust is Inside-Out-Marshmallowgreen, naturally, with green hair and eyes. Sadness: blue, of course, with blue hair and eyes. Fear is purple, with – guess what! – purple hair and eyes. But for some reason Joy is a race, not a colour. Think she’s yellow? Look again. She’s a glowing peachy colour, and her eyes are big and blue and she’s got a cute little pixie cut. Joy is a white girl. This makes me vaguely uncomfortable.

2. Why is Sadness fat?

They made Sadness into a chubster in a turtleneck. They may as well have given her cats too, just to give her the complete Depressed Lady makeover. Her glasses cover almost her entire face and though we never see the emotions eating, we can imagine that she must eat the heck out of hers. Mint chocolate chip? No. Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough.

3. What gender are YOUR emotioInside-Out-Father-Headquartersns?

Riley’s emotions are mixed-gender. Anxiety is a dude, Disgust is a dudette. But her father’s emotions are all mustachioed men while her mother’s are all bespectacled ladies. Now, why might this be? Sean thought it might just be for simplicity’s sake. Her mother’s brain is instantly identifiable since all her emotions have the same drab haircut. Her father’s brain is even worse shape: it’s being run by a bunch of hockey-obsessed jerks (or soccer-obsessed, for international audiences). This felt uncomfortably stereotypical but got a big laugh from the jam-packed theatre because – haha – men never listen!

4. Why is Joy lone-wolfing it?

As a counsellor, I often find myself telling people that no emotion is necessarily good or bad because all might be helpful or have purpose. Certainly this movie does a good job of justifying Sadness, but I still feel like the balance is a little off-kilter. Sadness, Anger, Fear, Disgust: all couldmomemotions be said to be on one side of the positive-negative spectrum of emotions, while Joy is lonely on the other. It may be true that Amy Pohler is worth at least 3 Bill Haders but I still felt a little sad that she was representing positivity and light all by her lonesome. And when Joy went missing, everything went to hell, so it would seem that a little Hope or Excitement might have been a good pack up plan (though admittedly I understand why 5 characters were a manageable number from an engaging, story-telling point of view). Still, there are many emotions left out – which would you have liked to see?

5. What is your primary emotion?

It is clear from birth that Joy is running the show. She leads the other emotions and guides Riley’s experience, always striving for the perfect, happy day. Not so for Riley’s parents. Anger seems to helm the control console in her father’s brain. He does not seem to be an outwardly angry person, but maybe we’re once again short-hand stereotyping anger as somehow masculine. Worse still, Riley’s mom’s primary emotion appears to be Sadness. She doesn’t seem depressed to us, but it made me feel blue to think of her every move being tinged by a pall of unhappiness. Who do you think is the captain of your ship? I think I might have Joy and Anger as co-pilots; I’m at my best when I’m in full-on snarky bitch mode.


Anyway, today my primary emotion is Anticipation! Just like Riley and her family, we’re about to embark on a San Francisco adventure (well, it’s our first stop, anyway) and I can’t wait to land there and be filled with Joy and Excitement and Wonder and Dread of Eventually Going Back to Work, which is too a legit emotion as I have it ALL THE TIME. While the Assholes are in California we’ll be posting about our favourite movies as they relate to our sight-seeing adventures, so please keep checking in to see what we’re up to next – and if you’re feeling brave, follow us on Twitter ( @assholemovies ) to see things like Jay’s contemptuous travel face, Sean’s hungry frown, an orange blur that might be the Golden Gate Bridge, 13 pictures of Jack Nicholson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame obscured by half of Jay’s fat finger, Matt riding a train off into the sunset like he’s in some kind of goddamned movie. It’ll be good times, I promise!


14 thoughts on “The Colour of Joy

  1. Christopher

    Confusion reigns in my head. Is confusion an emotion? That’s one of many questions raised in my head by Inside Out, and I haven’t even seen it yet. I trust the reviews I’ve read in various places, including here, that it’s great, but I’m glad to read this because it reassures me that it’s not unreservedly great. Don’t ask me why that reassures me, but it is a good feeling. I just have difficulty with the idea of emotions as individual personae, given how much they seem to combine and overlap.


  2. Andrew

    I have a few answers to your questions…if they help you feel less uncomfortable.

    I’d say that Joy is Caucasian because Riley is. I don’t think there is any deeply rooted reason for this, only that she is the same race as her ‘person’.

    Sadness being fat is probably just a stereotype to emphasis what we normally associate with depression. She’s eternally sad. There is no inbetween with her. Her job is to be sad.

    As far as the gender thing, a nice point raised by a fellow blogger was that Riley, at her age, hasn’t fully developed who she is, which is probably why she has multi-gendered emotions. Her father is an adult and so he has developed into a man, with manly emotions…same with the mother (womanly emotions), but Riley is still developing, and so this angle gives the impression that she doesn’t know which ‘gender’ her emotions will skew yet.

    As far as Joy running the show…the main crux of this film was to show how all of our emotions are important, but Joy is in charge because when we are born, we don’t know anything yet. We start with Joy because we haven’t learnt to color anything in with our other emotions yet. A child is inherently Joyful, and until other circumstances and ‘life in general’ teach you otherwise, that is your prominent emotion.

    As far as the husband being controlled by anger, I would say that this is mostly due to the stress he’s feeling. He’s shielding his family because he’s a good man, but he’s obviously under a lot of stress. I’d say anger is less his prominent emotion and probably more the one in the driver’s seat ‘at the time’. He’s a fully developed human, so his emotions probably fluctuate out of that driver’s seat quite frequently.

    The same goes for the mother, who is able to hide her emotions better that Riley, but is probably feeling a lot of the same things. Remember, even she says how they need to be strong for the father.

    Anyways, I hope this helps a little.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jay Post author

      Well, I don’t actually feel like I need help understand this movie, I’m more pointing out the problems I had with certain decisions.
      The Caucasian bias does bother me. And for the record, the school teacher, who is black, still has a peach-coloured Joy.
      And yes, I get that Sadness is fat because of a stereotype. What I’m saying is that the stereotype is offensive.
      And I’m not sure I agree about the gender differences either. I think as kids we’re pushed into gender norms and we sort those more out as adults. Hopefully that’s changing now, but I still think I’m more in touch with my whole spectrum male-female possibilities than I ever was as a little girl.


      1. Andrew

        I wasn’t saying you needed help understanding the film, I was simply giving my opinion/answers to the questions you raised. Sorry if that sounded like I was telling you you didn’t understand the film. That was not my intention.


  3. mattasshole

    I think the questions your raise are really interesting. I do think that Sadness’ body type may be modelled a little after Phyllis Smith. Disney seems to do this alot, taking inspiriation from the likeness of the voice actors and all five emotions seem to follow that tradition to a certain extent.
    I think the question of who is in the driver’s seat for the mother and father is an intersting one and I do wonder how intentional that was on the part of the filmmakers in telling us about these characters’ inner life. Pretty sad actually.
    I think Joy is in the drivers seat for me. The four other emotions in Riley’s mind tend to defer to Joy even though she is always trying to keep them out of Riley’s consciousness. While I feel all five motions, I think I- like Riley and Joy- work hard to stay positive and sometimes fight off the more negative emotions.


  4. shesgotdimples

    I haven’t seen this movie yet, so I probably shouldn’t comment at all. But I’m going to comment anyway because it’s entertaining.

    So, from someone’s perspective who’s entire knowledge of this movie is a brief trailer on Amazon Prime and this blog, here is my two cents.

    This movie is kind of a mix between a psychological nightmare and a psychology major’s dream. (I would say wet-dream, but since this is a child’s movie, this makes ME very uncomfortable.) I mean, you have this child who basically has multiple personality disorder. And her multiple personality disorder is existentially stereotypical. And I’m assuming at one point they all join together and sing or something? And Joy is probably the champion, and at the end you come out learning that each and every emotion is important in its very own and unique way?

    Haha, nah, I’ll probably watch it, but still. That’s how it looks from the cynical mom who’s seen Frozen more times than it snowed in Wisconsin last year. (A LOT)


  5. The Knitting Cinephile

    From what I hear, Joy was in fact a little more monochromatic (with blonde hair) but then she looked too much like Tinkerbell.


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